Buttle leads men in Colorado Springs

Canada’s Jeffrey Buttle made a glorious return to the international scene by placing first in the short program in front of one of the most impressive fields that this competition has ever seen. After nursing a repetitive injury to his back after a fall, Buttle returned to competition in January to earn his fourth consecutive national title with relative ease.

“I’ve been spending most of the season off the ice in rehab,” explained Buttle. “The injury has healed completely and I’ve been back on the ice basically training like normal.”

Buttle’s score of 77.42 points, a new personal best, can be attributed to the fact that the three-time Canadian Champion not only received level fours on all of his components, but also earned positive grades of execution on most of them as well. Buttle’s strength has always been his component scores, and tonight was no exception.

The ease by which Buttle moved from element to element with interesting connection moves helped to create an artistic masterpiece set to Astor Piazzolla’s Adios Nonino. Buttle opened the program with a beautiful triple flip to triple toe loop combination that earned him a whopping 10.07 points. His only visible error in the program was putting his hands down on the triple Axel, earning him negative grades of execution from the entire judging panel.

“I kept rotating after the Axel,” explained the 24-year-old. “So I had a pretty big step out. But I think all of the other elements … not only the levels, but the quality really paid off.”

In a surprising second place is Jeremy Abbott, the pewter medalist from the US Championships, who is competing in his first ISU Championship.

“I’m a little shocked,” laughed Abbott when asked about his ranking. “I was very pleased with my performance, and I knew that I could perform the way that I did.”

Abbott’s routine to Dead Already from the American Beauty soundtrack which earned him the only standing ovation of the night, was highlighted by an opening triple Lutz to triple toe combination, a triple Axel, and a light yet powerful triple loop out of real footwork.

Abbott’s speed and carriage are world class. The 21-year-old used these qualities to cover the entire ice surface from end to end while interpreting the music with angst and power that translated well to the audience. Abbott’s score of 74.34, like Buttle’s, is a personal best.

Abbott went on to explain that he felt much more comfortable and mentally prepared here than at US Championships. “I was very distracted and didn’t know what to expect,” he said, referring to the US Nationals. “But having gone through that and knowing what to expect, it was a lot easier to get through this short program.”

Ryan Bradley, the surprise silver medalist at last month’s US Championships scored a new personal best of 68.83 points to place third in this phase of the competition. The 23-year-old executed perhaps the biggest triple Axel in the competition, much to the delight of his hometown crowd. His only mistake was doubling a planned triple toe loop at the back half of a triple flip jump combination.

Donned in a costume with da-glo colors, Bradley enthralled the audience with his routine to Polka and Happy Birthday Variations by Gidon Kremer with a flirtatious charm that only he can convincingly execute. Though Bradley only received a level two and a level three on his footwork sequences, he was able to maintain the audience’s interest with his likeable presentation by showcasing much improved spins.

Bradley was basking in his placement. “It was a good step for me from Nationals,” he said. “Obviously I didn’t jump as well, but my other things were a little bit stronger, and that is what we are trying to do. I am very happy with how today came out. The last time I competed in Four Continents (in 2004) was not as successful, this time was certainly better than my last.”

Bradley was not surprised that he was back-to-back with Abbott. “I feel like we compete everyday and I think that’s what pushes us. Obviously being used to the altitude helps. There are a lot of great skaters here, and it just happened to be our day today,” he added.

US Champion Evan Lysacek struggled in his short program to The Feeling Begins by Peter Gabriel, downgrading his jump combination to a triple lutz to double toe loop and doubling his triple flip. Lysacek’s score of 67.04 was good enough for fourth place on the strength of his spins for which he earned level fours.

“It was a very strange night for competition,” said Lysacek. “I usually try to feed off the energy of the crowd, but there wasn’t much energy [here] tonight.”

In fifth place with 64.98 points is Canada’s Emanuel Sandhu. It is always an experience to watch Sandhu compete as he is typically rock solid in practice, but then can’t translate that to competition ice.

The 2007 Canadian National bronze medalist opened his Pantera En Liberta/Mambo program with a hard-fought quadruple toe to double toe-Axel combination and then popped his triple Axel to a single.

After a few seconds of interesting choreography, Sandhu stopped skating and went to the referee’s table to correct an equipment failure. At some point in the program, Sandhu popped a hook on his boot and needed to repair it in order to complete the program. In accordance with ISU policy, Sandhu was given two minutes to correct the equipment failure, and then would be allowed to skate the rest of his program from the point in which he needed to stop.

After the break, Sandhu returned to the ice fighting for each move, landing a beautiful triple lutz before he unleashed a choreographic fury of spectacular moves interpretive of the mambo-themed program.

The 26-year-old earned level threes and fours on all of his non-jump elements to edge out Jialiang Wu of China, who skated a clean program without the flair that Sandhu demonstrated.

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